SkepticblogSkepticblog logo banner

top navigation:

In Defense of Fast Food

by Brian Dunning, Feb 07 2013

It’s no secret that I’m not a giant fan of’s science reporting, especially in recent years. But when I happened upon this story by chef Virginia Willis on’s “Eatocracy” section, I felt that it went a little too far over the line of rhetoric trumping responsible reporting, and deserved some response. Here are the two opening paragraphs, verbatim:

As a chef and food writer, I rarely eat fast food. The quality is generally atrocious and much of it is radically unhealthy. The menu offerings are the polar opposite of local and seasonal. There are dire implications concerning worker’s rights and wages, as well as animal welfare and factory farms.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, every interstate exit is identical with the same usual suspects offering the same sad sacks of chemically laced, artificially flavored fare, all swimming in high-fructose corn syrup. Cheap, fast food is at the core of what is wrong with our food system.

This is pop tripe. Her worst points are wrong, her best are debatable. It has long been politically correct to bash fast food, and this article opens with all the most tired cheap shots that are unworthy of a culinary professional.

Ironically, her article goes on to discuss how much she likes Chick-fil-A, a fast food restaurant serving basically the same chicken and HFCS soft drinks as other fast food restaurants — she fails to convincingly argue why the same food is OK when Chick-fil-A serves it, but not other similar chains. But, be that as it may; today I’d like to address Willis’ points from her opening paragraphs. Too many people blindly accept such pop attacks on fast food without reflection on the facts.

Let’s go point by point:

The quality is generally atrocious…

I’d say the quality is almost always exactly up to expectations; I don’t get an especially sloppy cardboard burger any more often than I get a restaurant meal that fails to delight. If she’s saying a cheeseburger is not French cuisine, well, no duh, it’s not intended to be. Without defining “quality” this statement is really just a weasel word to poison the well. If she means the flavor, well, that’s purely a matter of opinion.

…and much of it is radically unhealthy.

I will have this argument all day long. I’ve investigated this for Skeptoid, and this is simply untrue. The ingredients used in fast food are the same as used in fine restaurants and that you can buy in a supermarket. If you’re talking about calories, I call BS. The typical fast food meal is actually quite small and takes 5 minutes to eat, compared to almost any restaurant meal where you spend a solid hour eating almost constantly. The worst offenders — naturally sweetened soft drinks (sugar or HFCS) and milk shakes — are identical to what you’d get ordering the same thing at a restaurant or buying it from the supermarket. This myth that fast food is magically unhealthy is simply not supported by any facts.

Indeed, it’s a valid argument that the opposite is true. No one will ever die from malnutrition eating fast food: it’s got just about everything your body needs. Eat four 510-calorie Big Macs a day and you’ll lose weight, and get more protein and vitamins than you would from most other similarly caloric diets. If you don’t believe that, do the research for yourself, instead of simply parroting ideologically-driven pop tripe.

The menu offerings are the polar opposite of local and seasonal.

So what? There’s no benefit to either. Locally-grown is a fine boutique experience, but as I’ve written before, there’s no other real benefit. It’s also usually worse for the environment, contrary to what appears obvious.

There are dire implications concerning worker’s rights and wages…

I am not aware that this problem is specific to fast food chains at all. found that a lot of fast food chains are beloved by their employees. I’m unconvinced that this is not the case with most any industry.

…as well as animal welfare and factory farms.

Again, any issues that exist are common to the food industry as a whole, not to a given category of restaurant. And exactly what is a “factory farm” besides a weaselly way to say “farm”?

 It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, every interstate exit is identical with the same usual suspects offering the same sad sacks of chemically laced…

“Chemically laced”? What chemicals? What are these malevolent “chemicals” found in fast food that are not common to all food?

…artificially flavored fare…

Really? OK, let’s take a McDonald’s combo. Soft drink, sure; same as you’d get if you bought a Coke anywhere. What’s the “artificial flavor” in the fries? Nothing. What’s the artificial flavor in the cheeseburger? The only possibility I can think of is the Heinz ketchup; but according to Heinz, it’s all natural flavoring. Willis just parroted something that seemed obvious to her, but does not appear to be supported by facts. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that artificial flavoring is more common in fast food than in regular supermarket food.

…all swimming in high-fructose corn syrup.

Really? Obviously this is hyperbole. Pretty useless hyperbole, too. HFCS is no more common on fast food menus than it is on any other menu. Even if it were, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it that you couldn’t say about regular sugar.

Cheap, fast food is at the core of what is wrong with our food system.

I’m going to disagree wholeheartedly. The abundant availability of cheap, fast food shows that our food system has reached the pinnacle of success. This perspective is symptomatic of someone with many snobby choices — and offering many choices, catering to anyone’s personal preferences, should be the ultimate goal of any nation’s food system. Ask someone in Ethiopia, Eritrea, DRC, Sierra Leone, Burundi or Chad if they would consider abundant cheap food choices to be a sign of their food system’s failure.

It’s perfectly fine to dislike fast food, or high-calorie food, or whatever it is that you don’t care for. If you think Americans eat too many calories and you want to place the blame on the food providers, then place it equally among everyone who offers over-calorific food — starting with Starbuck’s and big-plate sit-down restaurants. Simply parroting pop pseudo-food-facts is part of the overall problem of a lack of critical thinking in society.

(For those bound to ask: My favorite fast food chains are Five Guys, Baja Fresh, Burger King, and KFC. My least favorite are Del Taco, Jack in the Box, and so far, Chick-fil-A has failed to impress despite several fair attempts.)

118 Responses to “In Defense of Fast Food”

  1. Mikeb says:

    I notice your title refers to Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food,” which I found to be a horrible anti-science screed, full of extraordinary claims such as “the western diet is killing us,” “organic food is better for you,” and “reductionist science has failed us” (these are paraphrases).

    Wondering what your opinion of this book is?

    • tmac57 says:

      Wasn’t the bottom line of that book “Eat food,not too much,mostly plants.” ? Doesn’t sound all that anti-science to me.
      I did read the book,but it’s been several years ago. He was trying to get people to prepare food using basic ingredients (fresh fruits,vegs,meat etc.) instead of eating a lot of processed and prepared foods where you couldn’t control the inputs. Not really all that radical.

      • Steven Melendez says:

        Doesn’t make it not psuedoscience. The premise was to eat better, the science was false. That is the bottom line. Just because some idea is good doesn’t make the science behind it correct. That is why we have things like homeopathy as a good example. The science was screwed up, but when it came out, it was better for you than normal medicine, no?

      • tmac57 says:

        What specifically did you find to be pseudoscientific in his book? It’s been a long time since I read it,and I was already a skeptic at the time,and while I didn’t buy into all of his lines of reasoning,It did not strike me as a grossly anti-science book.
        I suspect you are either mis-remembering what you read,or you are exaggerating Pollan’s mistakes.But if you can provide some evidence,I will reconsider my opinion.

    • tmac57 says:

      I forgot to include this review by Harriet Hall on Science Based Medicine:

    • Sorry but I have not read it. I’m afraid the similarity in titles is just a happenstance.

  2. Max says:

    It’s not a science or a health story, it’s mainly about the Chick-fil-A gay marriage controversy.

    “If she’s saying a cheeseburger is not French cuisine, well, no duh, it’s not intended to be.”

    Well, she’s writing about it as a French chef: “Yet, there’s one thing that trumps my French-training and chef sensibilities; I love Chick-fil-A.”

    So she acknowledges that Chick-fil-A is fast food, but she still loves it because it’s made from scratch and whatnot. But now she’s conflicted about eating there because of the gay marriage controversy.

    • Steven Melendez says:

      Regardless of stance, you can’t trump your own opinions around as facts. “You are entitled to your own opinions. You are not entitled to your own facts.” And this she does with wild abandon in the paragraphs above.

      • Max says:

        Brian makes it sound like this was a science piece, in which case personal opinion and rhetorical devices like hyperbole might be inappropriate. But it was an Opinion piece.

        Her facts are mostly correct: Much of fast food is unhealthy, the menu offerings are not local or seasonal, the meat comes from factory farms, and the food is full of additives and high fructose corn syrup.

        Brian wrongly denies the use of additives, but accepts the other facts and argues that they’re not bad or no worse than restaurant food. That’s the opinion part. Chef Willis didn’t say she likes chain restaurant food, or how she rates food, except the part about her liking Chick-Fil-A.

      • Bill says:

        I can’t agree with this. I can’t say I have chosen one side of this argument over the other, but I find his points compelling: “factory farm” means nothing other than that they are not small farms, which is pointless as everyone gets foods from large farms and we would die without them; HFCS appears in soft drinks but not any more than anywhere else and aside from deserts, where the same applies, the rest of the food is not related to HFCS; local and seasonal food provides no specific benefit except to local food providers (there is no health benefit, and it would actually hurt the national economy if everyone did it, and some areas–most in fact–absolutely depend on food shipped from other areas). And he does not present these as opinion, but points out that the suppositions work against the facts that are evident in existing research. His fault, if anything, lies in failing to provide evidence from the research, or at least direction to it. Of course, she does neither but rather simply works on assumption, which he is not doing. Rhetorically at least, I find his position to be the stronger one, if not a perfect one.

      • Max says:

        “factory farm means nothing other than that they are not small farms”

        No, it implies various practices, like keeping animals in filthy conditions and feeding them antibiotics to prevent (not treat) disease, and promote growth. Unfortunately, it also promotes the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

        “everyone gets foods from large farms and we would die without them”

        Not everyone. Fine restaurants get food from small local farms, but it’s more expensive. Some even list the farms on the menu.

        “HFCS appears in soft drinks but not any more than anywhere else”

        Sodas with HFCS are a “fast food” drink. You’re less likely to order soda in a Chinese restaurant that serves hot Oolong tea for free.

        “the rest of the food is not related to HFCS”

        That may seem obvious to you and Brian, but it’s not supported by the fact that HFCS is also in buns, pizza crust, sauces, condiments, and salad dressings.

        “local and seasonal food provides no specific benefit except to local food providers”

        It’s more fresh, and fosters a partnership between the chef and the local farm.

  3. Laura says:

    There is a connection between obesity rates in children & teenagers and # of fast food restaurants near the school, see for example
    The site has a lot of science-based info on the causes of obesity.

    • motorin says:

      There is also a correlation between the total number of buildings in an area and obesity.

      • Laura says:

        They did control for a lot of variables including school location type. There were several different studies of this type I saw.
        Brian Dunning says that fast food restaurants aren’t worse than non-fast restaurants. But this wouldn’t be the alternative in reality. The real alternative for these kids might be a school lunch or food brought from home that was bought in a grocery store, both of which are likely healthier.
        People at fast food places are probably more likely to drink their meal with soda, and sugary soda has been repeatedly linked to obesity in children. At a non-fast restaurant you often get glasses of water automatically, at least that was how it was when I was eating at restaurants. That by itself might be an important part of why fast food places are unhealthy.
        Sure, it makes sense that inner-city neighborhoods have more obesity. Lots of other environmental infuences.

    • Laura says:

      Another study, this one on adults, linking fast food consumption and BMI:
      and linking density of fast food outlets and BMI in older adults:
      From the 2nd article:
      “there is growing evidence linking overweight and/or obesity to unhealthy environments (e.g., land use patterns, food availability, processing, and marketing). One particular environmental factor that is receiving increased attention is the availability of local area fast-food restaurants. Recent data reveal that the number of fast-food restaurants in the U.S. has increased significantly over the past decade, particularly in low income and predominantly black urban neighborhoods. The data appear to coincide with a marked upward trend in total spending on fast food and energy intake derived from away-from-home sources, in particular fast-food outlets. With respect to obesity, studies have found associations between fast food consumption and increased body mass index (BMI) and weight gain.”

      • RCAF says:

        I believe what you wrote is the key to the issue. It’s not that fast food, per se, is any worse for you than other less maligned fare, it’s just that it’s cheap and is substituted for better quality home cooked meals.

        If people ate at a casual dining establishment more than fast food, then the weight gain would be even worse. There is a reason they have fought tooth and nail against putting nutrition labelling on their menus, and it isn’t because there food is so healthy. It’s easy to consume over 2000 calories in a single meal, and if you aren’t careful, you could be well over 3000.

      • Laura says:

        If people ate at a casual dining establishment more than fast food, then the weight gain would be even worse.
        I’m not sure why you think this or if there’s any evidence for it. Because people have longer to eat in a non-fast place?
        I’ve seen huge calorie counts for fast food. Soda consumption in particular has been linked to obesity in children, and fast food places push soda more than non-fast restaurants do.
        Yes, non-fast restaurants often serve high-fat glop that might be suitable for an elite swimmer after 2 hrs training. But the food quality is somewhat better than at fast food places.
        Yes, people go to fast food places when they went something fast, so non-fast restaurants aren’t filling the same niche. The fast food places are more kid-friendly, too.
        The actual healthy alternative to a fast food place might be to dive into a grocery store and buy some fruit & other instafood. For the same money you could get much better nutrition.

      • Bill says:

        “But the food quality is somewhat better than at fast food places.”

        As he points out in the article, without defining quality, this is an empty statement. How is it better? And why? Because you assume it is?

      • Drew says:

        Correlation does not mean causation. People are overweight because they eat too much and get less exercise. So it’s not surprising that people who overeat would most likely overeat fast food.

      • RCAF says:

        Laura, just do an Internet search on the calories in any restaurant you want – Chilli’s, TGIF’s, Olive Garden… The calories are huge, and they are actually an underestimation for the most part as a cook will fill a plate.

  4. Phea says:

    This excerpt from, “Fast Food Nation”, by Eric Schlosser, might explain the flavor industry. The book was written in ’01, so things might be different now, but I doubt it.

  5. Max says:

    “The ingredients used in fast food are the same as used in fine restaurants and that you can buy in a supermarket.”

    False. Just one example

    “French fries in any form aren’t exactly a health food, but as a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows those that come from the big national fast food chains are generally less healthy than those coming from independent restaurants. It all comes down to the type of oil used to fry them.
    Researchers from the University of Hawaii surveyed national fast food chains and found that 70% of the big guys (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, etc.) used corn oil blends for making their french fries, while only 20% of independents did so…
    The interesting part, from a keeping track of big-agriculture perspective, is that corn oil is more expensive than the some of the alternatives–$70 for 32 pounds of the stuff, versus $50 for more healthy soybean oil–so some sort of deal has to be going on for this to work out in terms of cost.”

    • Søren Furbo Skov says:

      The link to PNAS in your link is just to the home page, not to the report. There is no reference to the report. It doesn’t say when the report or blog post was made. The other non-advertising link seems to be to a random blog post mentioning McDonalds. All in all, it does a very poor job of convincing me that the report exists and has the conclusions claimed.

      The blog post doesn’t mention how much corn oil is in the “corn oil blends”, or what oils the independents substituted it with, so we can’t tell which is more healthy.

      Corn oil seems* to contain around 13% saturated fats, which isn’t all that much. As health concerns go, focusing on the amount of saturated fat in french fries, rather than the total amount of fat in them, seems misplaced.

      *According to Wikipedia.

      • Max says:

        What do you think, they made it up?

        “Corn oil, although initially hailed as a highly polyunsaturated fat that could lower cholesterol (10), contains considerably more heart-harmful saturated fat (11) than canola, sunflower, or safflower oils, and less heart-protective alpha-linolenic acid (12) than soybean oil, making it the least healthy choice of the five (13). U.S. corn agriculture has been criticized for its negative impacts on the environment (14) and its conspicuous federal subsidization (15)…
        When considering French fry oil along with corn-fed beef and chicken, as well as high-fructose corn syrup–sweetened soda, we see the pervasive influence of corn as an ingredient in national chain fast food.”

      • motorin says:

        Does everyone know that PNAS is not a peer-reviewed journal?

      • Pam Ellis says:

        Could you point to reports stating that one should avoid saturated fats? Trans fats are universally panned (for good reason it seems), but there is great debate on saturated fats and vegetable derived oils.

      • Max says:

        Here’s what the Harvard School of Public Health says.

        “Cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats…
        The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting less than 10% of calories each day from saturated fat. (27) The American Heart Association goes even further, recommending limiting saturated fat to no more than 7% of calories. (28)
        As a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep your intake of saturated fats as low as possible…
        Fully hydrogenating a vegetable oil creates a fat that acts like a saturated fat.”

        McDonald’s fries a lot of stuff in hydrogenated soybean oil, judging from its list of ingredients.

        Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, are much worse. McDonald’s uses partially hydrogenated soybean oil in its liquid margarine, buns, and other things.

        Deep frying creates trans fats, and is linked to prostate cancer.

        “Deep frying changes the chemical structure of oils through oxidation and hydrogenation, decreasing unsaturated fats and increasing trans fatty acids. This process generates mutagenic compounds such as aldehydes, which remain in the oil after frying, are incorporated into fried food, and metabolized in the gut.”

      • madscientist says:

        That may be the claims of the Hahvahd School of Public Health – but are the claims reasonable or even true? For example, I can say that you musn’t eat potassium cyanide because it’s not essential to your diet and that a few grams can kill you – but in the case, say, of “trans vs. not-trans fatty acids”, what is the real danger? Even with the “deep-frying causes cancer” claims (well, it doesn’t really say that outright but it may as well), where is the evidence? Where are the figures on grilled steak-induced cancer? How about barbecue-induced cancer?

      • Max says:

        Did you read the article?

        “For every extra 2 percent of calories from trans fat daily, the risk of coronary heart disease increases by 23 percent. Eliminating industrial-produced trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent between 6 and 19 percent of heart attacks and related deaths, or more than 200,000 each year.(31)”

        About cholesterol, my understanding is that trans fat raises “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowers “good” HDL cholesterol, saturated fat raises LDL, refined carbs lower HDL and raise triglycerides, and non-hydrogenated unsaturated fat raises HDL and lowers LDL and triglycerides.

        The article covers cancer too.
        Here’s the table of contents:

        Introduction: It’s Time to End the Low-Fat Myth
        How Fat Moves from Food to the Bloodstream
        How Fat and Cholesterol in Food Affect Blood Cholesterol Levels
        Dietary Fats and Heart Disease: Healthy Fats in Healthy Diets
        Dietary Fats and Diabetes
        Dietary Fats and Cancer
        Dietary Fats and Other Chronic Conditions
        Dietary Fats and Obesity
        The Bottom Line: Recommendations for Fat Intake

      • RCAF says:

        @madscientist, I use to believe like Max did – that saturated fat was the worst thing in the world. However, I’ve been reading a lot of reasearch, and the link seems rather weak. In other words, there seems to be a risk that saturated fats elevate your risk for coranary events, but it’s not clear-cut, and may not matter.

      • Max says:

        Saturated fat isn’t worse than trans fat, I thought I made that clear.

        Do you know something the American Heart Association doesn’t know?

      • RCAF says:

        @max, apparently I can read primary research.

        Or how about the Gold Standard – the Cochrane re

        Note the Cochrane study says it “may” do something. In other words, as I stated, there is weak evidence that saturated fat is bad.

  6. Max says:

    “What’s the artificial flavor in the cheeseburger?”

    I get 113 hits for “artificial” in the list of ingredients, in seasoning, sauces, liquid margarine, and buns.

    “I’ve seen nothing to indicate that artificial flavoring is more common in fast food than in regular supermarket food.”

    You can read the label in the supermarket to avoid it.

    • motorin says:

      and you can also go to the McDonald’s website to read the nutrition info to avoid it.

      • Max says:

        It’s more of a hassle, almost nobody does it, and the additives are in just about everything.

      • RCAF says:

        The nutrional information is also hanging in the restaruant, at least it is in Canada. However, as far as I’m aware, there isn’t really any difference between McDonald’s cheese, and that of, say, Kraft Slices. Also, there orange cheddar automatically has additives because cheddar isn’t normally orange.

        I’m curious, do you automatically equate “additive” with “harmful”?

    • How many hits for “artificial” are in the full ingredient list for, say, a Macaroni Grill restaurant?

      • Max says:

        I don’t know, they don’t publish the list, but I do know that you said, “Willis just parroted something that seemed obvious to her, but does not appear to be supported by facts.” Pot calling the kettle black.

      • Geoff says:

        No. You need to learn to read… or brush up on reading comprehension. “I’ve seen nothing to indicate that artificial flavoring is more common in fast food than in regular supermarket food.” Mr. Dunning is not parroting something that seems obvious but is not supported by facts. And you misrepresent all of your links. When called on that you “prove” your point by quoting something saying… “cutting back on saturated fat CAN be good for you…”

        So, like the CNN author, you’ve settled on your conclusion and then cherry pick “facts” that “prove” your argument. I’ll bet you’re a Democrat aren’t you? Yeah, thought so.

        I’m a truck driver and eat fast food constantly. I’m 42, 5’9″ and weigh 165. Less than 10% body fat, thank you very much. I’d be interested to know your diet and your comparable stats.

        It’s the amount of food you consume in one sitting, your daily caloric intake, your amount of exercise and avoiding sodas that are key.

        Now off to do a P90x workout. Then a Big Mac and fries!!

      • Max says:

        Another pot calling the kettle black.
        It seemed obvious to Dunning that a burger doesn’t have artificial flavor, but that’s not supported by facts, get it?

        Pam Ellis asked me to “point to reports stating that one should avoid saturated fats,” so I pointed to a report from a reliable source that states, “As a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep your intake of saturated fats as low as possible.”

        Avoiding sodas is key, I agree. Also, avoiding trans fat, saturated fat, sodium, refined carbs, and ad hominems.

      • RCAF says:

        With just a little searching of the primary research, you can find many articles that call into question the assumption that saturated fats are harmful.
        Honestly, I have done enough research to believe that there are no bad foods, it’s just a matter of quantity. I think if you eat plenty of vegtables, and fruits, and then exercise, you’ll be fine – as long as your intake doesn’t exceed your caloric needs. Problem is that people want to have a scape goat, whether it’s fat, carbs, or some evil company, it’s all rather misguided.

    • madscientist says:

      About “artificial ingredients” I think one of the biggest “artificial” ingredients is the 100% natural MSG. Some ingredients such as isoamyl acetate are indeed artificial, but many (if not most) are really natural. In some cases you get laboratory synthesized natural ingredients and once again in most cases they are indistinguishable from what’s extracted from nature.

      • Max says:

        The McDonald’s list of ingredients does not mention MSG or glutamate, as in monosodium glutamate, but it does list autolyzed yeast extract, which contains MSG. Food labels don’t count those as “artificial ingredients.”

        I once asked a server at a Chinese restaurant if they could hold the MSG, and he said no. Apparently it’s already in their seasoning; they don’t add it separately like salt.

        “In some cases you get laboratory synthesized natural ingredients and once again in most cases they are indistinguishable from what’s extracted from nature.”

        In those cases the problem isn’t with the added flavor but with the fact that it masks bad-tasting or stale food.

  7. Trimegistus says:

    Wait, a story on CNN was inaccurate and ideologically biased?

    Fetch the smelling salts, Cuthbert! I am overcome by shock!

  8. brainmatters says:

    I don’t know about you, but I would not lose weight on four cheeseburgers a day–over 2000 calories! I am older, small, and female–no more than 1200 calories for me.

    Fried food, of any kind, isn’t very healthy, but I do agree that unhealthy foods can be obtained anywhere, most egregiously, at Whole Foods and other “health” food stores. The complaint I have about food is the very “fastness” of it. It wrecks the concept of family meals and the accompanying marketing makes kids refuse to eat what Mom serves. Eating on the run, in the car, is part of the cultural shift that has made it okay to eat anytime, any place–which is likely a part of food abundance that contributes to the obesity problem.

    The other notable thing is the lack of vegetables. Yes, yes, I know they offer salads, but there is more to vegetables than a bit of lettuce and a cherry tomato.

    • Laura says:

      At a fast food place you are probably more likely to drink a big sugary soda with the meal, especially if you get the food driving by. At non-fast places they’d have water on the table usually and people are likely to just drink that.
      So on average it would be worse than just hamburgers. It would be hamburgers + soda (sugar calories only) + fries or onion rings (loads of grease). Brian Dunning is distorting the picture to make things look better for fast food.

      • When you say “You are more likely to drink a big sugary drink” are you speaking for yourself, or just for the proverbial “other people”? I haven’t had a sugared soft drink in years, and I’m not the only one.

      • Laura says:

        Eating lots of sugar and fat is what fast food places push, by tactics like not having glasses of water put in front of you.
        Yes, you could improve on the nutritional quality by carefully enforcing your choices, but it would be going against the grain. People are very infuenced by advertising and various marketing tactics, and marketers know this (although people prefer to think their choices are independent)
        The fast food places make their money by selling very cheap ingredients. The HFCS and grease are cheap sources of calories, so that’s what fast food places push in various ways (like having cheap combos, giant happy soda containers, etc. etc. etc.)
        It isn’t relevant what one can do by carefully making conscious choices. What’s relevant to things like fast food’s contribution to obesity, is what people on average do, people who aren’t particularly conscious, people who are influenced by advertising and marketing tactics.
        If those advertising and marketing tactics didn’t work, the fast food places wouldn’t be able to sell 10c (or whatever) of sugar and grease for $3, and they would go broke.

      • And neither would any other kind of restaurant.

      • Laura says:

        The non fast-food restaurants charge more, they can afford to sell people less junky food.

      • Bill says:

        You make some good points, but your assumption that people are likely to just drink the water put in front of them at a restaurant goes against the grain just as much as not getting a soft drink at a fast food place. Look around you the next time you are not at a health food spot. Everyone has a drink, whether beer, wine, iced tea, soda, etc. The first thing a waiter or waitress asks, at ANY establishment, liquor-licensed or not, is “Can I get you something to drink” or something akin to that in order to sell a drink. They make money on it based on jacking up the tab–since they depend on tips–and the restaurant makes money on drink mark-ups the same way fast food places do. Rarely is anyone just sticking with water, and restaurants encourage that behavior, so that argument just does not work.

      • tmac57 says:

        I think part of the problem here Brian is the pricing of the fast food items encourages people to skip the sandwich only and a glass of water option to go for the combination for just a little more money,and “on second thought,the super-size is just a little more,so what the hell”.
        Also,people who dine in, in the fast food joints almost always go for the free refills of soda,because “hey,it’s free!”
        Should we take responsibility for our choices? Absolutely!
        Do they make it easier to fail at making good choices? Absolutely!

      • Laura says:

        Marketing and advertising influence people. That’s why fast food chains spend a lot of money on marketing & advertising: to influence people into buying extremely cheap ingredients in a cheap but attractive package – at a price that while still cheap, represents an attractive profit.
        People don’t like to believe they are influenced by marketing. This is probably to the advantage of the marketers!

      • tmac57 says:

        KFC and Whataburger seem to be really good at this (at least for me),but their product never lives up to the tasty looking things that their commercials promise.

      • RCAF says:

        Brian, although I agree with you, it is true that sugared beverages represent the largest intake of calories in the American diet – something that actually shocked me. I think that fast food does contribute to that intake.

        However, I disagree about the water on the table comment, as I don’t know anybody that only drinks water. Non-fast food restants tend to be more into coffee and alcoholic beverages, which could, not will, but could lead to lower fluid calories. Not that it would matter with all the calories you’re going to consume on the larger entrees.

  9. Molly says:

    First of all, I’m not a an anti-HFCS, anti-artificial flavoring, anti-fast food nut. I swear. I can clearly see how annoying the CNN article is. However, I don’t think you’ve done your due diligence as a skeptic here in your response. You pose a lot of questions and then provide your own assumptions for answers instead of looking up the facts – that’s a woo tactic!

    For instance, it would have been easy enough for you to look up the ingredients lists of McDonald’s food before assuming that the prevalence of artificial flavors and HFCS is as low as you think. I pulled up the PDF and was able to use Edit>Find to search for “artificial” and “fructose” and found many hits where I would not have expected them. I’m not saying that they’re nefarious poison, just that they’re more common than you seem to think. To someone who holds the belief that they are nefarious poison, this information would be alarming.

    • How is that different from food at other types of restaurants? That’s my point.

      • Archie Clebberdale says:

        I suppose that would depend on the restaurant, but I happen to know that the Irish pub next door just buys its ingredients fresh at the local supermarket; they use the same frying oil I would use, the same potatoes, the same veggies, and so on. Now, I’m not the kind that gets upset at the thought of artificial flavourings, and I think the only reason the Irish pub’s meals are tastier is because of preparation differences.
        However, the fact remains that your article is ill-researched. You are doing exactly the same thing the CNN article is doing, and the worst part is that you don’t need to in order to call out said article on the ridiculous bullshit it spouts. And of course that you claim to be above this.
        I’ve seen that several other of your points have been challenged in the comments; please address them and update the article. Just leaving it to the comment thread is kind of lame.

      • Laura says:

        Yes, I’ve seen logic similar to Brian Dunning’s from people online who are in various kinds of denial. For example people who weigh too much, writing about how little they eat.
        They’re talking about what they eat on a good day. But what’s relevant is how people eat on average.
        What’s relevant to fast food restaurants is not how you can eat if you’re aware of your choices (non-horribly but not well either) but how people who go there do eat on average. The people who go there would include for example, kids who have no idea of good nutrition; people who are stressed out or mad about something else and want a distraction or a splurge for stress relief; people who are in a group and in a communal carefree mood. Etc. etc.
        Yes, non-fast restaurants aren’t good for nutrition either. They too play these games of putting lots of fat in the food as a cheap way to make it filling, putting out cheap bread for people to stuff themselves on, etc.
        But the fast food restaurants are an accentuated version of this.

      • tmac57 says:

        Here’s an interesting fact: Most overweight people gain an average of 2 LBs a year over their lifetimes. It’s easy to see that from age 20 to 40 that would put you at 40 LBs overweight!
        2 Lb’s per year weight gain can be achieved by consuming an extra 20 calories per day…that’s right a mere 20 calories per day. Think about that the next time you drink a can of soda at 150 calories.You really don’t have to be a glutton to gain more weight than you need,you only need to take in a wee bit more than you expend per day.
        It adds up faster than you might think,but it really doesn’t take a huge effort to reverse it,IF you are aware of the trap.

      • RCAF says:

        @tmac57, it’s actually worse than that. A study I just read said the weight gain is actually about 4lbs, and that’s before the age of 40 (IIRC). Seems people lie.
        It’s also worse because they ask people about their weight the year previous, not about an extended time frame. Considering how so many people are on a diet at any one time, this number will actually be lower than if you asked a person how much they gained over a ten-year time frame.

      • RCAF says:

        @Laura, I’m sorry, but I think you are falling into the trap of creating a scape goat of the fast food industry. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t helpful, but it is only a part, and I’d say a small part of the whole issue.
        There are a lot of moving parts at work, everything from the shift from manual labour jobs, to office jobs, increased eating out, increased protion size of all foods – not just fast foods, and the *gasp* way even meals eaten at home are now more likely to be processed crap. You do know that there are now people that can barely boil water, and eat nothing, but heat-and-serve foods at home, correct?
        There has also been a huge increase in snacking, intake of sugar sweetened beverages, and a real lack of exercise on the part of children. So, to just lay the blame of everything on fast-food is to miss the bigger picture, and I think this is what Brian was trying to point out.

      • Molly says:

        Maybe our confusion is how you are defining “restaurant”? From my perspective the number of added chemicals in McDonald’s food vs. the restaurants we frequent is very different. Fries are a good example. When we go to a restaurant and get fries (or “frites” as they are more likely to be called in fine dining :) ) they will be potatoes that have been cut up, often soaked in water, dried off, and then deep fried. So they ingredients are potatoes, oil, and probably some salt. But McDonald’s fries contain:

        Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]*, citric acid [preservative]), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.

        I’m not speaking from restaurant behind-the-scenes naïveté – I have worked in food service and have friends who own restaurants (one of whom is a former local restaurant reviewer with a BS in food science). When they make bread it contains one or more types of flour, water, yeast, a little sugar or honey, and some type of fat. McDonalds “bakery style bun” contains:
        Enriched Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Whole Wheat Flour, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Honey, Wheat Gluten, Contains 2% or Less of: Yeast, Soybean Oil, Maltodextrin (Dietary Fiber), Salt, Calcium Sulfate, Dough Conditioners (Wheat Flour, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Mono and Diglycerides, Enzymes, Calcium Peroxide), Ammonium Sulfate, Natural Flavor (Botanical Source), Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Vitamin D3, Rolled Wheat (Topping).

      • RCAF says:

        To be fair, lots of restaurants buy their bread products from commercial bakeries, and they contain the same ingredients. As for the fries, I’m interested in knowing what you think the problem is, that they just don’t fry in oil? There doesn’t seem to be any issue with the ingredients.
        I agree with Brian on this, if you think that the food isn’t up to the haute cuisine that you prefer than that’s your prerogative. Nobody can fault you for what you want to put into your mouth. However, it seems that you are trying to justify your bias by casting fast food in a worse light than it deserves.

        Trust me, describing a porterhouse with fries as a 20oz fatty piece of cow flesh cooked with carconogenic heat, smothered in satured fat, and served with beef tallow-cooked starch, doesn’t sound much better. ;)

  10. d brown says:

    Well, HFCS was shown to make worse free radicals than sugar does many years ago. That was found long before anyone cared about all fruit sugars. Not just corn sugars. They over salt just about everything too.

  11. m king says:

    It would seem a bit of name-calling just took place because someone happens to disagree with your viewpoints in a public setting. Offering facts without the pop tripe comments would lend itself to your arguments a little better. I can’t read past your insults to give your point of view any time for thought. You come across angry, not better informed.

    That being said, I stopped eating out and also stopped eating all processed foods and processed sugars and my cholesterol dropped through the floor. Life is meant to be enjoyed. If enjoying life means cheeseburgers and bacon, go for it. God will pluck us from this world when He is ready.

  12. Name Withheld says:

    You’re no nutrition expert, And your logic is hopelessly contorted on this issue. Let’s get it straight.

    1. Americans need to eat less PROCESSED FOOD. Whether it’s from a fast food restaurant or a grocery store or a vending machine. Americans need to eat more WHOLE FOODS. Americans need to eat less preservatives/additives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, etc.

    2. Americans need to eat LESS MEAT. Americans need to eat MORE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES.

    3. Americans need to eat less REFINED SUGARS.

    America has the highest rate of obesity in the world. America has the highest rate of fast food consumption in the world. Coincidence? Fast food is both a real contributor to and symbolic representation of America’s bad diet.

    Get a clue before you blog next time.

    • Student says:

      “You’re no nutrition expert, And your logic is hopelessly contorted on this issue. Let’s get it straight.”

      i) Ad Hominem. Your logic is contorted at the first sentence.

      “1. Americans need to eat less PROCESSED FOOD. Whether it’s from a fast food restaurant or a grocery store or a vending machine. Americans need to eat more WHOLE FOODS. Americans need to eat less preservatives/additives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, etc.”
      ii) Why? Processed food isn’t necessarily bad, being processed doesn’t magically make it nutritionally worthless. This is basically raw-foodist tripe. Things being processed isn’t bad, it depends what it’s processed into.

      “2. Americans need to eat LESS MEAT. Americans need to eat MORE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES.”
      iii) First true thing you’ve said. Americans eat a high meat diet. Congratulations! But, is this because of fast food? Go to your supermarket and look at a steak. It’s bigger than your daily dose of meat should be.

      “3. Americans need to eat less REFINED SUGARS.
      America has the highest rate of obesity in the world. America has the highest rate of fast food consumption in the world. Coincidence?”
      iv)Correlation != Causation. America has the highest amount of military spending. Does that mean that military spending causes obesity? NO. Your approach here is reductionist and absurd, and, based on fallacious logic. Contorted indeed. Contrary to what ignorant, unskeptical people think, coincidences do exist. Two things being associated in some way does not mean that they have a causal link.

      “Fast food is both a real contributor to”
      Prove it.

      “and symbolic representation of America’s bad diet.”
      That’s just bullshit. Even if it’s not contributing, it’s a symbolic representation of bad diet? That’s just stupid. You’re substituting rhetoric for facts.

      “Get a clue before you blog next time.”
      Get a clue before you comment next time.

      • RCAF says:

        Don’t forget – America isn’t even the fattest nation. It’s the 9th fattest, but why should (s)he let facts get in the way. It’s so much more interesting to argue when you don’t.

      • Max says:

        America is the fattest nation in the developed world.

        “There is some good news. New data for 10 countries show that over the past decade obesity rates slowed or stopped growing in England, Hungary, Italy, Korea and Switzerland, and grew only 2 – 3% in France and Spain. In Canada, Ireland and the US, however, they increased 4 – 5%. And the rate of childhood obesity in England, France, Korea and the US has stabilized. Part of the reason could be that most governments have stepped up efforts to tackle the root causes of obesity, with some looking at taxing foods heavy in fat and sugar and several (e.g. Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary) passing new legislation in 2011.”

      • RCAF says:

        Max, true, it is number one in the developed world, but this isn’t what was stated. I honestly believe that obessity is a pressing issue, but it needs to be examined with a broad overview of the issue.

  13. BillG says:

    What’s the distinction from fast food and non-fast food restaurants? Price? It all comes to MSG and marketing.

    • madscientist says:

      ‘specially the marketing. “You’re special – you need to eat my $50 burger and flick the bird to all those peasants who can only afford $2 burgers.” Seriously – I’ve been to some markets where there was “organic chicken” being sold and I said “hey, these goddamned chickens must have laid golden eggs” – the chickens cost about 5 times the market price of chicken.

  14. Mikeb says:

    [I keep trying to reply to tmac57 at the top, but my comment doesn't appear.]

    Hi, tmac57.

    Here is just one example of an extraordinary claim in Pollan’s book that I take issue with (and that I point out to my students when teaching critical thinking):

    “All our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic disease that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food….”

    Pollan then goes on a rant–a veritable Gish gallop–against some naughty abstractions: “processed foods,” “refined grains,” “Western diets,” and the much-maligned “chemicals.”

    The book has all the hallmarks of food quackery that Stephen Barrett outlines on Quackwatch, particularly items 2, 4, 5 and 8.

    I’m very surprised to hear that Dr. Hall gives the book a pass, and thanks for pointing me to her review.

  15. madscientist says:

    Meh; I avoid most fast food joints – in particular I avoid McDonald’s because I think their burgers smell like shit-filled diapers. However, I’m not into the “you can only eat food blessed by Buddha” snobbery – you know the sort – the chickens needs certificates with their names and date of birth and what chicken highschool they graduated from and so on. You just have to laugh at the holier-than-thou food snobs: “eww.. you ate a cow that wasn’t hand-fed by (insert name of celebrity) – I only eat cows descended from a cow that Jesus ate”.

  16. Chamber says:

    What many people seem to be confusing from the original post is the inability of most to think critically for themselves instead of desperately trying to find tidbits of information to support how they feel about a subject.
    To quote mr. Dunning:

    It’s perfectly fine to dislike fast food, or high-calorie food, or whatever it is that you don’t care for.

    What I gather from the article is that a so called chef and food writer would use so much reification to bash a whole industry they claim to be familiar with. To that I say keep your personal bias to yourself if you can’t support the reasoning behind it and I also say

    “I’m a marine biologist and I can tell you that dolphins are evil amphibians because they can fly”

    With that being said, wouldn’t it make more sense to agree or at least mention that better education and critical thinking when it comes to making dietary choices would be more beneficial to Americans as a whole instead of bashing the entire fast food industry over a few observed flaws? Mcdonald’s and other food chains has some pretty healthy choices on the menu and if you are not too lazy to cite reports on the type of oil used to fry their fries, I’m confident you can also make informed choices about what you should be putting in your body and how much. Guess what? They market the healthier choices on their menu as well. Everyone is different when you consider things such as metabolism and age, so to speak on behalf of millions of people when you make claims about a single undesirable element at a certain fast food chain doesn’t rationally undermine the entire system as a whole.
    Anyone can make the choice to simply not eat it.
    One could claim that food being prepared fast is wrecking the concept of family while another could claim that the convenience of having a meal prepared and served quickly allows them and their family more time to spend on other activities such as a child’s homework or food education (both of which could be considered equally uncomplicated).
    Personally, I would go with the latter seeing as marketing doesn’t completely deprive us of the ability to think for ourselves and make informed choices and there are many other things one could associate with the concept of family aside from meals. If nutrition information was not obtainable in any way then I could understand the cause for concern but seeing as how that is not the case today, it all boils down to price and quality; both of which are not as bad as some people make them out to be. Some people in north Korea wouldn’t have any gripes with any of the food items offered on any north American menu. Sure it’s great to demand better quality but don’t castigate other people based off a personal bias. Instead of being bougie, make good diet choices for yourself and appreciate the fact you have options. Obesity exists worldwide and although it’s considered more prevalent in America, we can safely say that exercise and good diet choices play a larger role in weight loss then condemning an entire fast food chain for attempting to strike a balance between yummy and healthy(who if only went the healthy route, would in turn loose the business of guys like me who can consume 2000+ calories in a meal and not think twice). If it concerns you then don’t eat it or exercise and indulge.
    Most comments boil down to just another, “well, it’s obvious to anyone with common sense…” argument. Kettle logic at best.
    Common sense is not science. Emotion is not logic.
    Please take the time to think about that.

  17. Max says:

    By the way, there are plenty of stories about the “worst restaurant foods.”

    Brian, you mentioned Macaroni Grill? That’s #15 and #4 on this list.

    But it’s not exactly fine dining.

    A more serious story
    “For a study published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition, researchers looked at the nutritional content of 30,923 menu items, including those from children’s menus, from 245 brands of restaurants. They found that 96% of them failed to meet recommendations for the combination of calories, sodium, fat and saturated fat set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

  18. Chamber says:

    Nice, I applaud your efforts. That’s information compelling enough to turn me off of fast food for good.

    “The entrees in family style restaurants — places such as Pizza Hut, Red Lobster and Denny’s — had higher levels of the items studied than fast-food restaurants: 271 more calories on average, and 16 grams more fat and 435 mg more sodium, Wu said.

    Serving size counts, too.

    Pizza restaurants often listed an entrée as one slice — good luck with that. Or a single piece of fried chicken. Really? “This could end up being very confusing for consumers,” Wu said in a telephone interview.

    And of course, the diner determines the size of a meal from buffet restaurants. “People don’t typically go to buffets to have a light meal,” she said.”

    Now, maybe it’s just me but I believe that many people do not wish to spend time and money going out, only to order a small serving of pizza or chicken only to have to take a few bites and put it down. Fast food fanboys like me who don’t have to watch what they eat as vigilantly probably wouldn’t notice or mind as much as people who need to make better dietary choices for whatever reason. This is an area that obviously needs to be considered by most major fast food chains. Taste and marketing is one thing, but if they can’t offer any healthy meal choices and/or serving sizes that adhere to USDA guidelines and would be considered appropriate for anyone with a condition or a will to make informed choices, then all I can say is shame on them. It’s one thing to indulge once in a while but for someone with high blood pressure, I assume it just wouldn’t be worth it if only one or two items can be eaten safely in such moderation (who wants to eat half a slice of pizza?). I contend that most people would prefer to make their own entrees with ingredients that enable them to enjoy a full serving of (those TVP burgers are looking better already) instead of shell out money for a similar entree which could put them over their daily limit of sodium in a few bites. Unless of course, they absolutely love said entree(it’s to die for!) and feel that it is worth the time economically and literally to go there and order it. There is nothing chemical or artificial about salt, but that isn’t a reason to cake every menu item in it. Shame!

  19. Chamber says:

    The only truthful statement in “chef” Virginia Willis two opening paragraphs:
    “much of it is radically unhealthy.”

    She should have left it at that and moved on.

  20. Gilles says:

    I don’t have the courage to read the 51 responses.

    So is eating fast-food every day as healthy as eating home-made balanced meals?

  21. Phil Bey says:

    I find McD’s is a pretty good choice under the following conditions: 1) Only order food on Mondays through Fridays between 11:15AM and 12:45PM for lunch or 4:45PM and 6:15PM for dinner ONLY (the weekend crews are usually kids who can’t get the orders correct or may sabotage the food) 2) Only patronize the newer, cleaner restuarants and 3) Only order one or two Big Macs, NO FRIES, and bottled water. Limit this to no more than twice a week. If you must have breakfast, only get the Egg McMuffin or Hot Cakes and Sausage, bottled water (skip the OJ) and take your chance on the coffee. Oh, and how about excercise daily, even if it’s only walking for 20 minutes. Diet + excercise trumps either by itself.

  22. Phil Bey says:

    I do apologize for drifting a bit off topic with my post. The point I was trying to make is it’s no secret that organic foods are NOT necessarily better than those that use preservatives or those grown with pesticides, especially when done in moderation. Fast food can’t be blamed for everything. The Big Mac and Egg McMuffin sandwiches by themselves are not any more unhealthy than most of the healthiest-touted offerings from sit down restaurants, and are almost lower in calories. Skip the fries and soda, and the healthy-food bloggers have nothing on you.

  23. deb says:

    Oh what noble cause you have taken up – defending the Golden Arches. Don’t they have their own lawyers to do that?

    • RCAF says:

      That’s impressive, you rolled a non-sequitor in with an ad hominem without missing a beat.
      I don’t think that this has anything to do with defending McDonald’s, nor does it have to deal with lawyers. It’s about examining whether the opinoin of fast-foods as being bad food is well founded. But hey, thanks for the (non)input.

      • Max says:

        You pick your battles. Dunning has a history of defending things like fast food, SUVs, DDT, and the Fukushima nuclear power plant, instead of pointing the skeptical eye at corporate PR.

      • RCAF says:

        True, but I think that may be because corporations are an easy whipping boy. It really isn’t hard to point out how corporate shills are spreading misinformation, but it isn’t automatically a bad thing just because big corporations do it.
        I have a love-hate relationship with big business. They provide a lot of the things I want, but they also steal, lie, and cheat. Kinda like my ex. ;)

  24. Grace says:

    “And exactly what is a “factory farm” besides a weaselly way to say ‘farm’?”

    “Factory farm” is a derogatory term for CAFOs (, basically large-scale animal raising operations that typically keep the animals in very crowded conditions. There are many legitimate concerns with their practices related to animal welfare, public health, and environment. What most people imagine when they say “farm” has little resemblance to what happens on a factory farm.

    This is well documented, readily available information– or did you not really want to know that?

    • What’s the dividing line?

      • Grace says:

        CAFO is a legal designation defined by the EPA:

        As in most things, reality is obviously a spectrum, and the EPA’s designation doesn’t automatically make a farm “good” or “bad.” But, there are plenty of practices in factory farming that are worthy of concern, particularly in how the animals are treated. Of course, that doesn’t mean a small farmer can’t be cruel to his animals. But factory farming practices institutionalize cruelty, making suffering almost unavoidable.

  25. James says:

    All one has to know about fast food is experience what your digestive system does after you eat it.

  26. Max says:

    “A regular patron and unofficial spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill has died of an apparent heart attack, the restaurant’s owner said on Monday…
    In March 2011, Blair River, the restaurant’s 575-pound representative, died from complications stemming from pneumonia. He was 29…
    Last February, a man reportedly suffered a heart attack while eating a ‘triple bypass burger.’ According to Las Vegas’ Fox 5 affiliate, he survived.”

  27. Chamber says:

    Although the sodium content of menu items considered healthier bothers me, I contend that when eaten in moderation any harm stemming from those items can be reduced greatly. It’s just important to know what moderation is for you or your family. Many CAFOs have been improving every year on the conditions in which the animals are treated not only due to concerns for their well being, but also because less stress leading to slaughter equals better quality meat. It’s a win-win scenario when those concerns are addressed.

  28. Mike Reese says:

    I had to chuckle at her praise of Five Guys. Oh, not because they are ‘healthier’ than anyone else. It’s just that, when it comes to the question of quantity, Five Guys has a custom of giving a random customer the last of a batch of fries before they make a new one .. they did that for me on my first visit. The bag of fries was bigger than my burger order!!

  29. Mike Reese says:

    Radio talk show host Mike McConnell (WGN Radio 720, Chicago) has talked about this a number of times. He points out how one can go into nearly any ‘sit down’ restaurant and order a burger that would make a fast food place offering look like diet fare. And I notice that NO ONE talks about the independent, ‘mom and pop’ type of fast food places, who serve virtually the SAME type of food as the chains .. because ‘Joe’s’ burger joint ain’t swimming in billions of dollars ..

  30. Mike Reese says:

    “HFCS appears in soft drinks but not any more than anywhere else”
    Sodas with HFCS are a “fast food” drink. You’re less likely to order soda in a Chinese restaurant that serves hot Oolong tea for free.

    Really?? Guess you haven’t been in a Chinese restaurant lately (I’m talking neighborhood places, not upscale stuff). They ALL offer soda, especially with the ‘lunch special’ combo plates. BTW. I always drink tea with Chinese food .. habit.

    • Max says:

      I think you’re less likely to order a soda in a Chinese restaurant than in a fast food place, and it turns out I’m right in your case. And I’m talking about Chinese restaurants with ceramic plates and complimentary tea, not Panda Express, which competes with fast food. You’re also more likely to use chopsticks that make it harder to stuff your face.

      • Steven St. John says:

        This is off topic, but Max your post reminded me of one of my favorite observational studies of food behavior – Wansink’s Eating Behavior and Obesity at Chinese Buffets ( One of the findings is that chopsticks-users had a lower BMI than fork users!

        On topic, I would wager that people consume more soda at sit-down restaurants than fast food restaurants. Both places permit free refills, but three things favor higher consumption at a sit down restaurant. One, they bring the refill to you (data in the Chinese buffet paper are consistent with the surprising notion that adding even a little work lowers intake). Two, you’re there longer. Three, you’re more likely to eat with companions than alone, which increases intake as well. Now, this would only apply to people who select soda, and it may be that fewer people select soda.

        But these are empirical questions, and I may report back on this because it sounds like a good group project for my next Psychology Of Eating senior seminar.

      • Max says:

        Everybody gets stuffed at all-you-can-eat buffets. Gotta get your money’s worth. But that also means you don’t want to fill up on cheap bread and rice.
        It takes the least work to drink the complimentary green/Oolong tea that’s already on the table, which goes better with Chinese food anyway. Ordering soda is just lame, like using a plastic fork, and people know it’s overpriced even with free refills.
        People are more likely to drink alcohol at sit-down restaurants, and that’s a whole other story.

      • RCAF says:

        Chopsticks only help if you can’t use them. ;)
        On a serious note, I’ve been to Chinese and western buffets, and there does seem to be a weight difference. Especially, if you consider places like the Golden Corral, which I think the name means they are trying to feed people like cows. At least some of them are trying to get that big.

    • Max says:

      By the way, you brought up something important, which is the force of habit. I didn’t drink soda growing up, and still don’t. I ate meat growing up, and still do. Had I been raised vegan, I’d probably still be vegan. To me, washing down meat with sweet soda feels weird, like eating steak with syrup instead of steak sauce. And meat without vegetables feels empty and dry.

      Being raised on fast food instills bad habits, like drinking soda with everything, and eating meat with bread but almost no vegetables. In school, students teased me about eating vegetables with lunch. They thought I was nuts. I thought they were nuts.

      • RCAF says:

        Great point. If people filled 2/3 of their plate with veggies, and didn’t drink sugared beverages, then they wouldn’t have the problems with their health as they do know.

  31. Drew says:

    And we wonder why food science lags behind other scientific fields. Let’s stick with what we know: Eat foods with the most nutritional value. The type of food you eat is not as important as the nutritional content contained therein. We are so spoiled when it comes to food availability that we can choose what to eat. Many countries do not enjoy that privilege. We are comfortable and being comfortable has cost us dearly. We drive everywhere, have no incentive to exercise, and spend most of our time in front of computer screens. This is why we are so fat. Yes, eating fast food does correlate with an unhealthy lifestyle but eating too much of any food would.

  32. Dear Brian,

    I am somewhat involved in cryptozoology. However, I consider myself an open-minded and reasonable skeptic, and I greatly admire the great work that you have done at thoroughly debunking pseudoscientific claims like this.

    I remain unconvinced about the existence of most cryptids. However, I still think that much of the world still remains largely unexplored and undocumented, and that there is still a plethora of new species waiting to be described by zoology, including here in North America. I think that the deserts of the American Southwest particularly have a lot of potential for some fantastic new species discoveries.

    Anyways, Brian, I honestly just want to express my great admiration for skeptics such as you and Sharon Hill. Less than 2 years ago, I used to be a Young Earth creationist. It is people like you who have brought me back to the world of science and reason, so for that, I truly thank you very much, with all my heart.


    A Fellow Skeptic (And A Former Creationist, As Well)